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IDF now must wait and see if reservists fulfill no-show threat

10,000 IDF and 1,142 IAF personnel declared prior to the passing of a key judicial reform bill that if it became law they would stop reporting for duty.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi attends a Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, July 18, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi attends a Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, July 18, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Yaakov Lappin
Yaakov Lappin
Yaakov Lappin is an Israel-based military affairs correspondent and analyst. He is the in-house analyst at the Miryam Institute; a research associate at the Alma Research and Education Center; and a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University. He is a frequent guest commentator on international television news networks, including Sky News and i24 News. Lappin is the author of Virtual Caliphate: Exposing the Islamist State on the Internet. Follow him at: www.patreon.com/yaakovlappin.

On the day after Israel’s coalition unilaterally passed into law the so-called “reasonability bill,” part of its controversial judicial reform plan, Israel Defense Forces senior command is now in uncharted territory.

The IDF General Staff now must wait and see whether the large number of reservists who vowed prior to the bill’s passing that they would cease reporting for duty if it became law without a consensus make good on their threat.

On Sunday, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi continued his rearguard action against the phenomenon. In an official letter to all soldiers, he reaffirmed the need to discuss “the importance of readiness and cohesion during times of dispute.”

Halevi warned in his letter that, “If we are not a strong, united military, if the best don’t serve in the IDF—we won’t be able to exist further as a country in the region. It is not too late to repair this. We must repair it, because there is no other way except through internal and external cohesion.”

Halevi told the IDF that “we worked to stay outside of the dispute, but in light of its intensity in Israeli society, we found ourselves inside of it, and the cohesion has been harmed. Our duty is to stop the cracks from spreading.”

Describing the divide over judicial reform as “legitimate,” Halevi said that one of the IDF’s roles was to defend the state and allow such disputes to occur “under safe conditions.”

“When the disputes spread to the ranks of the IDF and create cracks in it, an infantry soldier could mistakenly think that an IAF pilot won’t help him because of this division. An IAF pilot could mistakenly think that it is possible to not prepare and maintain readiness for war, when in fact we could need him soon. These are dangerous cracks,” the letter continued.

Prior to the bill’s passing, a large gap existed between the number of warnings and letters issued by reservists and the number who actually stopped reporting for duty. The vast majority of reservists from all three branches continued to serve as normal despite the threats. Now, the IDF will be closely monitoring the situation to see whether this gap narrows, and if so how this will affect Israeli military readiness at a time when Hezbollah is testing Israel for weakness.

The inescapable conclusion is that the Israeli military faces in the coming months the greatest threat to its cohesion, and potentially the greatest threat to its combat-readiness, in its history.

On Saturday, 10,000 IDF reservists declared that they would not report for duty if the government passed the bill in its current form. On Friday, 1,142 Israeli Air Force reserve personnel signed a letter stating the same thing. 

That letter included some 500 air crew members as well as command and control personnel, drone operators and special IAF units. The letter, addressed to IAF Commander Maj. Gen. Tomer Bar, called for broad agreement on the bill, which was passed by 64-0, with the opposition boycotting the final vote.

IAF reserve pilots are on active duty once a week to once every two weeks to maintain operational readiness, juggling reserve duty with their private-sector roles. If air crews or those serving in the IAF’s operational headquarters, including colonels and brigadier generals, refuse to report for duty, the IDF will lose their invaluable experience, and the IAF’s readiness will suffer.

The IAF can take disciplinary action against reservists who don’t report for duty, but cannot force a reserve pilot or headquarters staff member to fulfill their particular roles.

The coming weeks will prove critical in answering the question of whether Israeli military command is able to keep the reserves in line or whether the situation will spin out of control, with dire potential consequences for Israeli security.

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